Odontophobia, or more commonly known as, having a fear of the dentist, is a real condition that affects many people. It’s approximated that three out of four US adults experience some form of dental fear — from mild to sever. However, only five to 10 percent of Americans only have the most severe form, which is an extreme dental phobia. Simply put, a dental phobia is when people have any fear or anxiety around any type of dental care. Sedation dentistry may be an option for people who are debilitated by fear when going to the dentist, but there are other tips and tricks you can do if you’re not ready to go under quite yet.
The causes of dental phobia
Dental phobias may develop at anytime in a person’s life, but it will usually occur after a particularly traumatic experience. When researchers reviewed cases of dental phobia, they found a couple of commonalities among patients.
- Pain and discomfort – In a study that identified people 24 years of age and older who had not been to the dentist in over a year, many reported the fear of pain as the main reason. This may directly relate to prior experiences when sedation dentistry or “pain free” techniques didn’t exist. So, now patients correlate that perceived pain and anticipate it every time, when really it may not even exist.
- Control – Many people develop fears and phobias when they feel a lack of control. You see this in people who are afraid to fly, as well as dental patients. When people are in a dental chair, they essentially are confined. They can not see what’s going on, or read the body language of the dentist or hygienist. This creates anxiety and a sense of helplessness, and adds fuel to a dental phobia.
- Insecurity – For some people, the mouth is a very intimate part of the body, and having someone poke and prod around can create an embarrassment or insecurity. There may be a specific condition the patient is self-conscious about, for example, bad breath or copious amounts of plaque. Physical proximity is in a dentist’s job description, so if you like space, this presents an issue.
- Past experiences – As we mentioned earlier, negative past experiences contribute greatly to people’s phobia of the dentist. If there has been a painful or uncomfortable experience, it will leave the patient with a negative outlook on future appointments and procedures.
Dental phobia symptoms
If you have a dental phobia, you most already know that you have one. But, symptoms can present in the following ways:
- You feel tense leading up to the dental exam, and have trouble sleeping or relaxing.
- While you’re in the waiting room, you become extremely anxious and you clam up.
- Seeing a dentist or a “white coat” is extremely nerve racing and brings you to tears.
- You become physically ill before dental visits.
- You have a panic attack or trouble breathing when a dental procedure is about to be performed.
Tips to help you manage your fear
If you haven’t seen a dentist a dentist in quite a long time, keep in mind that dental procedures have come a long way. Modern dentistry provides new methods and techniques to keep you comfortable and calm while in the examination chair.
- Talk about your fear – If you have a phobia, sometimes, speaking it out loud to another person is beneficial. Talk about why you have the fear, and explore what experience you had that amplified it. In addition to talking about it with someone you trust, let your dentist know as well. Call the dental office and explain your experience and ask if there are any options or techniques that can help. Many times, sedation dentistry is available. If your dentist has a heads up, they are able to schedule the right staff and accommodate you properly.
- Establish a code – When you communicate with your dentist, establish a code you can use when you need a break, or are feeling particularly anxious. Raise your hand or give a thumbs down to indicate an issue. You can also ask your dentist to go at a slower pace either in the chair or in scheduled appointments. If you require a filing, see if you can split it up into two appointments.
- Distract yourself – These days, many dental offices have televisions you can watch while you’re getting work done, so look for an office that provides that option. If that option is not available, listen to music with headphones, and close your eyes and try to relax. Wearing sunglasses during the procedure can also ease your mind. Try and distract your brain with an object you can hold or fiddle with. This puts the attention on that object and not the dental procedure.
- Bring support – If you have a friend or family member that’s available, ask them if they’ll come with you to your appointment. Sometimes, there’s strength in numbers, and you’re able to confide in them.
- Have a mantra in mind – Before your appointment, think of an empowering mantra that you can repeat while you’re at the dentist. Repeating something personal to you like, “I am safe and unharmed at the dentist,” or “this dentist is kind and gentle, and I will overcome today.”
- Ask about medication – Your dentist may use anesthesia for sedation dentistry, but you may be able to get something a little more gentle. Talk with your dentist and see if they can prescribe a relaxing medication. Or, if you’re not into pharmaceuticals, try drinking a mind relaxing tea with supportive herbs, such as chamomile, lavender, hops, and kava root.
- Contemplate sedation dentistry – If the above techniques just don’t soothe your fear, you may want to talk with your dentist about sedation dentistry. This is reserved for the most extreme cases where someone is gravely suffering from a dental phobia.
How Dr. Mojgan Mazhari DDS can help
Here at Dr. Mojgan Mazhari DDS, we’re here to support you in your dental needs. If you experience a dental trauma from a pervious experiences, let us show you how pain-free dental care is. Or, if you need sedation dentistry, we’re happy to have that conversation with you.